Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CV): Raising money to run the new jail

Newton County's jail travails have been well documented in this space over the past few years.  Some posts are here, here and here.  At last, the new jail is nearing completion, but another problem looms:  How will the county pay for the cost of running the jail?  When county taxpayers voted in November, 2008, to support a one-half cent sales tax to finance the jail's construction, they voted down another one-half cent sales tax to support is maintenance and operation.   Now, however, the County Quorum Court is seeking a three-quarters-of-a-cent sales tax levy to finance the operation of the jail.  The proposal will be put to a vote during the November general election.

The story reporting this matter in the Newton County Times says that JPs (Justices of the Peace, who comprise the Quorum Court) considered asking for a half-cent sales tax this time around, but calculations showed that it would not generate enough revenue to finance the jail's operation.  The 3/4 cent sales tax--if it passes--will also fall short by $30,000 of the anticipated jail operation budget, $297,138 (to be precise).  However, Sheriff Keith Slape has assured the Quorum Court that the $30K deficit can be made up by "collection of outstanding warrant fees, fees for housing prisoners for other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and through pay for stay fees that would be added to court costs and fees when a defendant is adjudicated guilty."  Hmm, some of this sounds a bit like what is going on in Louisiana, as reported here.  Doesn't make me feel good about the new Newton County Jail (not that I feel good about a regressive tax, especially for such a regressive purpose) if it permits the county to make incarceration--including of other jurisdiction's prisoners--a cash cow for the county.

But the story provided yet more information that also caused me concern.  Slape said his office's expenses for housing prisoners at other facilities is currently about $5,000 a month.

What?  Just $60K a year?  Why then has the county just spent several hundred thousand on a new jail and how can they justify several hundred thousand a year to run the jail?

Slape suggests:
[J]udges are aware of the county's situation and they have been assessing fines rather than incarceration for many Newton County defendants adjudicated guilty.  He and his officers have not been serving some warrants and there is a growing backlog.  That backlog will be reduced as soon as he jail is open, he vowed.
If the sales tax request fails at the polls, the the new jail will remain closed and the sheriff's office will continue to operate without a jail.  How's that for a threat?

In other law and order news, a 35-year old many who was charged in September 2011 with "possession of a defaced firearm, a class D felony," has been sentenced to a year of probation and a $500 fine plus court costs.  The serial number was filed off the gun, which was found in the man's residence during an unrelated domestic violence investigation.  The charge was later amended to a Class A misdemeanor.

Charges of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, initially brought against a 47-year-old woman in September 2011, have been dropped at the request of prosecutor.  She had been accused of acquiring 4 grams of pseudoephedrine, lithium batteries, cold packs and other items used in the manufacture of meth. No reason is given for the dismissal, although the defendant failed to appear for a March 2012 court date.

The Newton County Sheriff's office is in the process of conducting a "Certified Auxiliary, Reserve and Part-Time II Office training" course between July 30 and Sept. 15.  The tuition of $130 is non-refundable.  Class instruction will include "basic law enforcement duties, crime scene investigation and traffic control" among other subjects.

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